The stinging cold air of a beautiful New York City day bit us as we rushed to get to the hotel. With long strides, we walked as fast as we could, trying our best to beat the freezing gushes of wind that were stepping on our feet. The city looked so raw, it was very early; too early for tourists to leave their warm beds and too early for locals to be in Times Square if ever. Rushing into the revolving doors of the hotel we finally felt the warm air of the heating. We walked farther into the hotel, admiring its grandness. Suddenly, we saw a statue of a man walking towards us. Well over six feet tall, Olympic swimmer Nathan Adrian can tower over the crowd easily. He walks over confidently as we wave at him. After a brief introduction, we sit down at a pair of chairs by the giant glass windows of the hotel, looking out to the busyness of the city. As we began to conduct the interview with Nathan, it was impossible to not notice his smile. The wideness of it, it invited you in, made you feel automatically comfortable with him. His genuineness radiated from him, at once I could tell I was going to love him.
There was something about Nathan that was automatically inspiring. Nathan was born in Bremerton, Washington, a town that is home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. His mother is Chinese and his father is American. Nathan learned to swim just before he was two-years old “as a water safety issue”. It wasn’t until five that Nathan began to swim competitively, which he describes as just doing swimming meets. This is where he fostered his love for swimming and the desire to do it more seriously, “the swimming just kind of takes you in, it’s kind of addictive, you know?”. At 14 years old, he began to do more and more competitions to be “more serious about it”. Fourteen years later, Nathan now has five Olympic Gold medals, one Silver and two Bronze. Participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics, Nathan has repeatedly awed the country with his abilities. One of the most spectacular things about Nathan is that he really had no intention in ever going to the Olympics, it was just his natural connection to swimming that drove him there, “you invest yourself in training and nutrition, getting the proper rest and then you see the results pay off in the end. That kind of improvement, knowing that you’re that much better, that much faster, than the last time you competed is contagious and you want to do it again and again and again. I was lucky that I kept improving, it made my dream continue to grow, and here we are today”. His honest gratitude towards his sport and experiences are truly what makes him who he is. “What would I be doing if I wasn’t swimming? Well, there’s a part of me that would want to be on motocross doing stunt tricks with nitro circus and the other part of me would just want to be on the pro-golf tour”. As Nathan later said, “neither one of those options would involve me being behind a desk”. It was clear from talking to him that regardless of whether his intent was to be as big as he is, it was his destiny to be where he is today.
The swimming just kind of takes you in, it’s kind of addictive, you know?
One of my personal biggest curiosities when interviewing Nathan was what the experience of being in the Olympics was like. I was itching to ask him questions about everything. I could not even begin to imagine the enormous amount of pressure that must come from being put on that stage, the millions and millions of people rooting for you, what that medal represents to the country. There is also the unifying aspect of the Olympics that has always fascinated me. Regardless of politics or world issue, all these athletes representing different countries come together and compete, it’s wonderful. The way Nathan spoke about it, I got a sense that it was a mixture of fun and stress. Most, if not all, of the athletes who attend the Olympics have been hoping to get there for a while, and the path there is almost more stressful than the Olympics themselves. “The most stressful meet of all time is Olympic Trials. The amount of pressure that’s on you for that and the expectations are terrible”. The path to getting to the tryouts is also a long one. These swimmers have spent their whole lives in high pressure environments where they are expected to perform successfully in all races. So, the feeling of pressure and anxiety is not unfamiliar, it’s the sense or urgency that is hardest. If an athlete does not qualify then they have to wait another four years to try to qualify again, and in the business of sports the older a person gets the less chances they might have at qualifying. To add to all of that, the media has a very close lens on athletes. “You know, we are there to compete and it can get out of hand. I will say that American media is not that bad, certainly not the worse. There’s some other countries that have media which can be so brutal to their poor athletes, I just feel so bad for them”. The hot topic of this year’s Olympics was, of course, the Zika virus. However, Nathan explains how, at most, the athletes saw 50 mosquitoes the whole time. The issue was certainly over hyped and exaggerated. All of these things play into the tensions that the athletes feel during the Olympics.
But once they have made it through to the the actual games, Team USA beats all.. When I asked Nathan what he felt was the key to team USA’s success he said it was to keep the adrenaline flowing. “Team USA [in Rio 2016] did an incredible job on picking up on some non successes. There were things that were supposed to happen that just didn’t and instead of dwelling on that, being like “What happened?”, it was like “Let’s go.” I think that’s actually a thing that USA Swimming and USA as a whole does a great job at. And you can look at other teams and watch their momentum fade, and then they fall into a rut and that’s the rest of their Olympics”. This group effort is made up by each individual athlete that strives to be the best they can be.
There were things that were supposed to happen that just didn’t and instead of dwelling on that, being like “What happened?”, it was like “Let’s go”.
This determination to win is best exhibited through Nathan’s rigorous routine and training. A typical Monday for Nathan usually goes like this; wake up at five a.m., eat, swim from six to eight, eat again, go home and relax for a bit, try to take a nap maybe, practice again, lift weights from about 12:20 to 2:00, then swim from there until 3:30, eat again and relax for a bit and then go to sleep. All those things are more than I would do in a week. He embodies the idea of his body being a temple. He carefully watches what he eats and keeps a high protein diet. Since Nathan is considered older in the world of athletes, he is constantly trying to improve the way he trains. He tries to speak to as many trainers as he possibly can to continue to improve his techniques “Eventually, I plan on sharing that knowledge with the next generation of swimmers who plan on swimming to my age and hopefully make their experience that much better”. To switch things up and continue to push himself, Nathan will “do things that step [him] out of [his] comfort zone to refresh [his] body and [his] mind”, such as body surfing and golf. Action packed, filled with extreme training and constantly motivated; this is how Nathan manages to be so successful.
Recently, Nathan has become one of Tommy Hilfiger’s ambassadors. “Working with Tommy has been great! It’s been a great relationship that started in 2012 when they invited me out here for men’s fashion week and the rest is kind of history”. This is another example of something Nathan does outside of the sports realm to keep himself fresh. Nathan explains how he has a particularly hard time dressing for fall (although we certainly could not notice with the way he had dressed that day) and how Tommy has helped him navigate fall colors and trends.
Just be yourself. There’s no replacement for you and there’s no problem with the way your are, so just do that! There’s no need to try and emulate people.
Nathan is by far one of the most driven and focused people I have ever met. He is genuine, caring and inspiring. One of the things he said that most struck a cord was, “Just be yourself. There’s no replacement for you and there’s no problem with the way your are, so just do that! There’s no need to try and emulate people”. Keep watching out for Nathan Adrian, he is sure to continue to be a success and inspire many more.
Words by Ana Sandoval
Photos by Anna Zhang
Originally published in Volume II, Issue No. 001 – Winter 2017.Like this